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Mountain News: Hard to make a go of museums



SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Museums seem to be a tough thing to pull off and sustain, as is evident in two Colorado mountain towns.

In Ignacio, located in southwest Colorado, the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum is being emptied. Tribal officials announced in March that the museum was losing its non-profit designation because it failed to uphold a contractual agreement to become financially independent.

Last week, according to the Durango Herald, representatives of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian were boxing up items loaned to the tribe for return to Washington, D.C.

True West magazine had named the Ute facility one of the best museums to visit. The high quality of exhibits matched that of the building telling of the history and ways of the Ute people who populated much of Colorado prior to American settlement.

At Snowmass Village, community leaders are still trying to figure out how to leverage the amazing ice age fossils discovered there in October 2010. Paleontologists said the finds rank among the most important in North American from the last interglacial period, roughly 135,000 to 50,000 years ago, before the last wave of glaciers in North America.

The bones of mastodons were so well preserved that they are indeed bones, not fossils. Insects recovered from the peat briefly glowed brightly when exposed to oxygen. The site is unique in that it's at 2,700 metres in elevation, far higher than other sites.

A group called Snowmass Discovery has been formed to try to figure out whether a science centre or museum could be created using the paleontological dig as the centrepiece. That's been several years, and movement forward has been — well, it's been glacial.

The Aspen Daily News reported that a consultant hired to help sort out the future found there has been a perceived lack of consensus by local elected officials. This has hampered development and fundraising efforts. In response, the town council voted unanimously that it does indeed support the effort. However, a council member also pointed to the financial contributions already made.

Yellowstone's paradox of the cultivated wild

BOZEMAN, Mont. — David Quammen, long a writer for Outside, two years ago got the plum job of writing an entire issue about the national geography of Yellowstone National Park. Todd Wilkinson, writing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, said Quammen did a fine job of it. The Yellowstone issue began showing up in mail boxes late last week.

"Quammen's challenge was moving beyond predictable platitudes and banalities — distilling complicated wildlife issues, natural resource conflicts, clashes of divergent cultures — and making clear as why Greater Yellowstone is now a hopeful planetary model for landscape conservation."

In talking with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air, Quammen explained the challenge of Yellowstone in his way:

"I call it the paradox of the cultivated wild. It's paradoxical because we're taking a place and we're saying, 'We want this place to continue to be wild, but in order for it to seem wild, to appear wild, to give people the experience of what the wild in the Northern Rockies is, we've got to do some thinking, we've got to do some management. We have to have some rules and some boundaries.'"

Advised Wilkinson: "Read this important piece: It'll make you smarter."

Ski train plans rolling forward

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Hope lingers that the Ski Train, which operated between downtown Denver and Winter Park from 1940 to 2009, will be reinstated by January.

The Colorado Transportation Commission recently approved a $1.5-million grant to install a boarding platform and rail improvements.

Steve Hurlbert, a Winter Park spokesman, said the platform was the first major hurdle. The resort had the first major program for people with disabilities, and it just wouldn't work to have that barrier of getting off and on the train without a platform, he said.

But numerous other details also remain to be worked out. They include ticket prices and decisions about where to park the train during the ski day.

Denver looks closer to home for water

LOVELAND, Colo. — Denver Water still has a lingering reputation in the headwaters and valleys of western Colorado, and it's not necessarily a good one. The agency is the largest water provider in Colorado, with 1.3 million customers in Denver and adjoining suburbs at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

About half of its water comes from near Winter Park and Keystone, west of the Continental Divide, on the Colorado River drainage. Two tunnels deliver the water under the mountains to rivers in the Denver area

Now, it's trying to wrap up a proposal to draw yet more water through the Moffat Tunnel from the Winter Park area by enlarging a reservoir in the foothills northwest of Denver. The project has the support of Grand County and other affected jurisdictions form the Western Slope. Still, some see this latest increment as part of a long tradition of Denver grabbing water that morally it does not own, despite legal ownership.

This, said Mike King, the agency's new director of water planning, may well be Denver's last new diversion from Colorado's Western Slope. The permitting and regulatory barriers are just too high, he said recently in response to a question from Aspen Journalism. "If there is water available, it's going to be a last resort."

To get Western Slope consent to its proposed expansion of diversions from the Winter Park area, Denver Water entered into a broad, long-ranging agreement with many Western Slope governments. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reported by Mountain Town News in 2010 and formally adopted in 2013, substantially shifts the onus onto Denver of impacts from diversions.

That said, the agreement does not extend to other growing cities along Colorado's Front Range.

Already, major cities in Colorado — but also in other places of the West — have begun stepping up water conservation efforts. Denver, in particular, has embarked on water reuse. The agency, at its new 14-hectare headquarters now being planned, will attempt to reuse all of its water, as reported by the Denver Post.

Water experts said that other growing cities in Colorado will likely explore agreements that allow them to effectively use water owned by local farmers in dry years rather than build expensive multi-billion dollar pipelines hundreds of kilometres.

Lake Tahoe overdue for shake and rattle

INCLNE VILLAGE, Nev. — There's a fault line along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, and there were seven quakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger from 1915 to 1954.

Since then? Not much shaking has been going on. This means the region is overdue for another earthquake, reported the Associated Press, quoting Graham Kent, director of the Nevada Seismology Laboratory.

A quake of magnitude 6 could cause up to $490 million in damages in the populated area of South Lake Tahoe, plus $1.9 billion in damage to the Reno-Sparks area.